Monday, April 02, 2007

Harbour wins the Ranfurly Shield

September 26, 2006

Walks on water: Vili Waqaseduadua (Harbour).
Goat horns: Caleb Ralph (Canterbury).

ranfurly shield

Great scenes of jubliation at Jade Stadium on Sunday told you everything you need to know about what the Log O' Wood means to kiwi rugby players. It's one of the most special trophies in all world rugby -- the idea of contesting the shield as a title defence like a heavyweight championship belt has always held a unique appeal -- and remains the ultimate prize in New Zealand sport.

North Harbour defeated Canterbury 21-17 and are taking the shield home for the summer. Harbour now has a chance to double-up and win the NPC.

Truth be told, it was an extremely fortunate win. The Canatabs were missing All-World stars in Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, and yet the home side still smoked Harbour in the territory (60%) and possession stakes (a whopping 64%). But Harbour tackled their arses off and took their meager chances (read: 14-point intercept tries) while the famed red 'n blacks could not finish. The bitter spitting-nails comments from Cantab captain Cory Flynn in his post-match interview told you everything about how angry and disappointed his team was to lose the Shield, calling it a "kick up the arse."

It was Harbour's first Shield win in eleven attempts; the greatest glory in their 21-year history.

It was also a moment for this ole' closet fan to wipe a tear from the eye. By rights, I should be a Harbour supporter. I grew up on the 'Shore and played club rugby for most of my boyhood with Takapuna, and my teenage years were spent busing to Eden Park to watch Auckland.

The North Harbour Union didn't exist in the 1970s. The Auckland Union was MY union; the best Takapuna players made the Auckland squad; and Eden Park was my temple of worship. Of course, for a possessive kid it never hurt that those Auckland teams were dominant, winning repeated National Championships and Ranfurly Shields.

When the North Harbour clubs -- including Takapuna -- broke away from Auckland and formed their own union those long 21 years ago, it was hard for an old fan like myself to give away all those decades of excellence, silverware and title-reigns, etc. My loyalties were divided. My heart told me I always rooted for blue-and-white hoops, and old habits die hard.

It's true that I was rooting for Harbour in their 1994 NPC final against the Auks, remembered now more for the legendary brawl than the actual result (Harbour loss). And I've always favoured All Blacks with a Harbour pedigree (Buck Shelford, Frank Bunce, Rico Gear, Tony Woodcock).

But Saturday's Shield win over Canterbury was the first time I really felt the pride of North Harbour rugby. I suspect I'll never be able to throw my support behind them the way I did Auckland in my youth, but Harbour's Ranfurly Shield elevated my spirits and joy for the game in a way I haven't felt in a very long time.

Congrats to everyone associated with Harbour rugby!


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